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After a Record 2023, Coal Headed for Decline, Analysts Say

Global coal demand hit a record high in 2023, but with the renewables buildout continuing apace in China, coal is headed for a decline over the next two years, according to a new analysis.

“We have seen declines in global coal demand a few times, but they were brief and caused by extraordinary events such as the collapse of the Soviet Union or the Covid-19 crisis,” said Keisuke Sadamori, director of energy markets and security at the International Energy Agency. “This time appears different, as the decline is more structural, driven by the formidable and sustained expansion of clean energy technologies.”

This year coal demand grew by 1.4 percent worldwide, according to an IEA analysis, which found a stark divide between developing and developed countries. While coal use grew by 5 percent in China and 8 percent in India, the world’s largest producers and consumers of coal, it fell by 20 percent in the U.S. and the EU.

Looking ahead, analysts say that global coal demand will fall by 2.3 percent by 2026, even without new policies to curb its use, as hydropower in China recovers from drought and new wind and solar projects come online. China, which currently is responsible for more than half of global coal demand, will account for more than half of renewable power coming online over the next three years. Experts say that with renewables poised to displace coal, it is possible that Chinese emissions peaked in 2023.

Still, the projected drop in coal demand falls far short of what is required to avoid catastrophic warming. Said Sadamori, “A turning point for coal is clearly on the horizon — though the pace at which renewables expand in key Asian economies will dictate what happens next, and much greater efforts are needed to meet international climate targets.”

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